Bilogical analogs in the workplace

Statue of Marx and Engels from the Szoborpark,...

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Response to The swarm as a method of work organisation (P2P Foundation blog)

Excerpted from Bob Cannell:
“A 2006 European study found the primary cause of degeneration of worker coops was capture by experts who come to dominate and control information. Creating controllers is not safe in worker owned or cooperative business.”

This is an interesting observation and I think there may be an important issue to explore.

Humans share many genes with other social animals. One thing we can observe in many social species is the way that “status” genes can be turned on by social circumstances. In many species when an “alpha” individual is lost by the pack or herd, a formerly subordinate individual will fill that role. Not only does the behavior of such an individual change, but in many cases there are physiological and morphological changes that can accompany such status changes even in fully developed adult individuals. This may be mediated by epigenetic mechanisms.

It may be that humans (perhaps some more than others) are similar in that respect. Put some people into a group of cooperating peers where there is no alpha individual and this may actually trigger something in them to assume an alpha role.

In humans it is especially difficult to distinguish between psychological, genetic, and environmental triggers for behavior, and my point is not to make a case for genetic determinism. I am only suggesting that the variety of unconscious and involuntary forces that might affect human competitiveness and status-related behavior can run very, very deep.

If leaders, controllers, experts, etc. are dangerous for cooperative peer groups, it may take a lot more than peer pressure or ideology to suppress the tendency of humans to express such phenotypes.

It occurs to me that we might try to incorporate environmental stimuli in the workplace that would somehow inhibit any tendency for alpha traits to emerge and drive individuals to fill status roles that are vacant by intent–if there were some kind of artificial “decoy” alpha in the room, for example. Perhaps a magnificent animated statue of Marx that would occasionally…

Poor Richard

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